Yesterday saw the release of a report on the future of Britain’s High Streets, and it has made interesting reading.
You can find a copy in PDF format here http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/business-sectors/docs/p/11-1434-portas-review-future-of-high-streets.pdf
High Street shopping has been affected by many things over the year, recessions, riots, weather to name but three. But it’s biggest threat is from The Internet shopping.
People are buying on-line more than ever before, I know I have just done my Christmas shopping all on-line this year. The wife and I even bought National Garden Vouchers on-line rather than buying them from a local garden centre. Now you may ask why?
Well the reason is simple, if both of us had gone to the local garden centre and back on the bus it would have cost us £4.40 in bus fares, over an hour in time and being at the mercy of the local buses and their apparent random timetable. The postage for the vouchers cost £2.00 so it was a no brainer as they say these days to order on-line.
In order to survive the high street is going to have to adapt, it will have to put the pleasure back in visiting the local town or city centre.
Now at this stage you might be thinking, “Hang on this is normally a blog about working on a preserved railway, so what the hell is he on about?”
Well that’s simple. Taking it to it’s most basic let’s look at who the competitors are. Now the answers to that question will vary from WE DON’T HAVE ANY IN PETERBOROUGH to answers such as The Cathedral, Flag Fen, Elton Hall etc.
The answer is actually anywhere that charges people for goods or services. The big four supermarkets are our competitors as is every shop, business and other tourist attraction.
If Mr & Mrs Average have £25 left at the end of the month for a treat then everybody including the railway is after that money. The high street and out of town centres are favourite to get it, if only because after spending that money they go home with something from experience, be it food, clothes or gadgets they have something from spending that money.
So how can the railway get that theoretical £25.00 rather than the local shops? Well what does the railway sell? Come on keep up at the back, what does the railway sell?
The answer of course is memories, that’s what we sell, memories. It’s those memories and how good they are that will determine if a visitor returns, tells his friends to visit or tells them to avoid us at any cost. We also have to offer value for money, the visitors have to go away knowing that they have had good value for money and that money was well spent.
Another question for you now. What’s the railways greatest asset? That’s easy the railways greatest asset is it’s staff, whether they are paid or volunteers. Many companies would give their bonus to have staff as keen as the railway has. Time and time again I have heard visitors saying that the staff are super, especially the locomotive crews, they talk to visitors, they wave and most importantly they smile.
So if the High Street is upping it’s game to get money in then tourist attractions have to also, but we have a head start we have the best team of staff I have come across. I have been on the railway for over seven years now and it never ceases to amaze me how keen people are to answer questions no matter how basic they seem and to give you their knowledge, skill and wisdom.
So if the railway can keep it’s problems, back biting and squabbles over nothing normally out of the public view then we have a winning team and we will sell more memories to more people. That’s what it’s all about. When you see the face of a young child light up at the sight of a locomotive be it steam or diesel coming into a station then it makes the job worth while.
A couple of years ago the wife and I visited two heritage railways in the South West. The first was a narrow gauge and the second was standard gauge. At the first there were friendly helpful staff and their enthusiasm was infectious, we had a super visit and we will certainly visit again. The second can be summed up as a lovely railway with miserable staff. The woman in the buffet was miserable, did not smile and had a face that could make milk sour. The TTI did not say please or thank you. At the seaside end of the line whilst wandering round the station taking pictures I was treated to two volunteers standing there condemning the railway and almost everybody on it. A driver grunted something unintelligible at a visitor who asked a question about the locomotive then turned his back and walked away. Suffice to say we will not be returning for another visit.
Our railway is so like the first and so unlike the second, at least the public side is, there will always be moans and groans, that’s a fact of life in any organisation, but they need to be kept private. But the enthusiasm of our staff is catching, many a time I have not felt in the most cheerful of moods especially on cold wet days, but that always goes when we see the crew of a steam train arriving, waving to visitors and smiling despite having done a few hours already in getting the locomotive ready for service.
So here’s to the many memories we will sell on the railway in 2012, and may they all be good ones.